Indiana’s Cody Zeller standing tall since matchup with Purdue’s A.J. Hammons
By Andy Proffet Post-Tribune correspondent February 15, 2013 6:40PM
Indiana forward Cody Zeller, right, shoots over Purdue center A.J. Hammons in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in West Lafayette, Ind., Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Updated: March 17, 2013 6:48PM
BLOOMINGTON — From a strictly statistical standpoint, Purdue’s A.J. Hammons won his first matchup with Indiana’s Cody Zeller.
Hammons outscored Zeller 30-19 and blocked five shots to Zeller’s zero.
Of course, Indiana won the game 97-60, the most lopsided loss ever at Mackey Arena for the Boilermakers. And while the No. 1 Hoosiers (22-3, 10-2 Big Ten) remain atop the conference, Purdue has lost four of five including that Jan. 30 loss to IU.
Hammons’ scoring output has dropped in each game since, culminating in his 10-point performance in Wednesday’s loss at Illinois.
Even before that, Purdue coach Matt Painter was fielding questions about his freshman center’s consistency.
“He just has to be engaged at all times. To be locked in to what’s going on around him,” Painter said on Monday’s Big Ten coaches’ conference call. “He’s done a better job of communicating on the court, especially in ball screen action
“I think once he has more consistent habits you’ll see a more consistent player.”
Consistency was a concern for Zeller earlier this season as well. The preseason All-American came into the first game against Purdue having posted back-to-back single-digit scoring games for the first time in his career.
He’s averaged 18.4 ppg since, including tying a season-high with 24 points in IU’s win at Ohio State that erased the bad taste of a last-second loss at Illinois in which Zeller and his teammates left Tyler Griffey unguarded for a game-winning layup.
The Hoosiers have focused on defense since, limiting the Buckeyes to 42.4 percent shooting and relying on defense to keep them in the game when their own shooting went cold for 10 minutes in the first half against Nebraska on Wednesday.
“As much as we want to set the pace and tempo, sometimes you have to wait for your opportunity,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said after the win over the Huskers. “As long as you’re sticking with what you know works, sometimes those opportunities come when you least expect it, or they come when you force the tempo just a little bit more defensively.”
While the Zeller-Hammons rematch will receive plenty of focus, another key for the Boilermakers will be contending with Victor Oladipo. He had 17 points in the earlier matchup, and after a relatively quiet 13 points against Nebraska, he could be looking for a big performance against the Boilermakers.
“Oladipo is a guy that’s hard to keep in front of you, very shifty, but he scores in a lot of different ways,” Painter said.
Oladipo and Zeller can each reach 1,000 career points in today’s game. Oladipo needs 17 points and Zeller is 25 points away.